Alignment, Staffing Top CIO Priorities

IT and business alignment regained its position as the No. 1 concern of CIOs and other senior IT managers in 2008, according to a soon-to-be released survey by the Society for Information Management.

Last year, for the first time this decade, IT and business alignment was displaced by attracting and retaining IT professionals as business-technology executives’ chief concern. Last year, survey takers–CIOs and other senior IT executives and managers who are SIM members–narrowly ranked IT and business alignment as their No. 2 concern.

But the survey author, Stevens Institute IT professor Jerry Luftman, split the attracting and retaining item into two questions for this year’s poll, one for attracting and another for retaining IT pros. If they remained as one item, he says, seeking and retaining IT talent might have remained in the top position for 2008. But Luftman wanted to know if one aspect of IT employment was more important than the other to CIOs. “Obviously, there’s a difference between attracting and retaining IT professionals,” he says.

In the new survey, with respondents from more than 350 companies, IT managers seemed more concern with finding than retaining business-tech talent. Attracting new IT pros ranked No. 4; retaining existing talent fell to No. 8. “It is relatively clear that the pipeline of available, adequately skilled people is not as strong as the demand for resources. That’s the nutshell,” Luftman says. “IS executives remain concerned that they’re not getting the folks with proper skills to join their organization.”

When SIM resumed querying members on their top management concerns in 2003 after a nine-year absence, business-technology managers consistently cited IT and business alignment as their top concern, except for 2007. In the 1994, the last year SIM polled members before resuming the survey in 2003, business and IT alignment ranked No. 9, just behind attracting and retaining IT professionals.

Though the top concern, Luftman says IT executives understand IT-business alignment much better than in the past. Yet, he says, the problem persists because corporate leaders too often see IT as subservient to business processes. “IT and business should be partners,” he says. “It drives me nuts when people talk about IT aligned with business and not with each other.”

Luftman also says alignment remains a problem because some business leaders think they know more about IT than they really do. “Business executives have laptops, PDAs, and they can use them, so they think they know everything about IT,” he says. “But IT is more complicated than that. It really should be the aim of CIOs to help educate business executive to understand and leverage IT. There’s a frustration among IT managers in assuring that IT is being leverage in the business.”

SIM last year introduced to the survey five new concerns, including building business skills in IT and making better use of information. Building business skills in IT is the No. 2 concern this year, up one notch from 2007, and making better use of information rose to No. 5 from the ninth position. These new categories, like others such as IT strategic planning that rose five places to No. 3, are subsets of IT-business alignment. “By splitting it out,” Luftman says, “we see which pieces of the puzzle IS executives see as more important in their minds.”

Despite changes in the order they’re ranked, the top 10 concerns remained the same from in 2008 as they did in 2007. Evolving CIO leadership role dropped to 11 from 10, but would have remained in the top 10 had attracting and retaining IT professionals stayed as a single item. That year-to-year consistency is unusual, and surprised Luftman, especially considering the challenges presented by the economic slowdown. “IT people and business people are working better on managing expensive resources with threats of a recession,” he says. “Even with that threat, they’re not slicing or dicing on panicking as they have done in the past. That’s a positive and happy surprise.”

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